17th Nov2010

Hey Star Trek! itchoo SACRED GROUND!?

by jerad.formby

We love Robert Beltran –the gentleman who portrayed Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager. He is the bane of many a Trek fan, because he’s known as Trek’s biggest complainer. We must forgive his wildly candid remarks about being on Star Trek, even though that’s not true of his fellow cast members.

Kate Mulgrew has criticized Beltran’s complaint: ‘they didn’t let me act.’ Her remarks were open and published in Britain’s SFX magazine across the pond.

We’re don’t agree with Beltran’s complaint, because we do think he got to act on Voyager. We will agree with Beltran that his character didn’t become the mind-blowingly awesome character that Chakotay was in theory.

You’ve been down this road with us before, gentle reader. This is the road where we go back to the drawing board and take a look at something that went wrong in Trek and wish whimsically that for our favorite television show had charted a different course.

Or better yet, that it had stayed true to course.

Voyager generally gets the snot kicked out of it by Star Trek fans. It’s generally accepted that it’s the weakest of the series, sometimes drowning neck and neck with Enterprise. We even postulated in this very forum that Voyager could have benefited more from Deep Space Nine’s edgy approach, but we’re about to take that back.

Why the change of heart? Well, friends, we’ve had to move from the sunny streets of Las Vegas to the cold mountains of Colorado and in that time, we’ve had a lone Voyager Season 1 box set to keep us company. And we watched all of it.

We liked us the Voyager. We especially enjoyed Chakotay.

He brings something very special to the table. He brings spirituality to Star Trek. This might not seem like a big deal, one might say, since there was “spirituality” on Deep Space Nine (the Bajoran religion, Kira’s open practice, worship of Captain Sisko).

Yes, the Bajorans prayed in the open on that show and we were subjected to a number of religious rituals. Citing the Bajoran religion as territory Trek had already explored doesn’t work for us all the same. The main reason for this is that the Bajoran religion was just a religion for aliens. It wasn’t a human practice and so was free from clashing with the ideals of Gene Roddenberry.

Roddenberry was very open about his belief that atheism was the principle approach the Federation and (more specifically) humans took toward God. Captain Picard declared this belief with pride that humanity had broken away from such primitive notions.

Star Trek functions without religion simply because Roddenberry believed that such beliefs led to lots of unnecessary conflict and suffering.

Chakotay was created to be Star Trek’s Native American character. He was deemed a necessary addition to the Star Trek universe, because his race hadn’t been included yet. He was a modern answer to Uhura in the 60’s –he was invented to inspire a group of people who hadn’t seen many positive examples of their race on television nor in movies.

The noble decision to create such a character already implied that spirituality within humans would have to be examined. Jeri Taylor’s early notes on the creation of Voyager have chicken marks that say: “First Officer—A human native American male, “Queegquog” person who has renounced Earth and lives expatriate on another planet. A mystical, mysterious man with whom the Captain has some prior connection, not explained.”

The first mystical human was about to materialize.

To create a character from an unfamiliar culture can seem daunting, so Taylor and her fellow show creators enlisted the help of an expert. They turned to the founder and president of the Native Land Foundation. To provide technical expertise on Native American culture, they hired Jamake Highwater.

When we discovered this information, we ran to the Internet right away. What nuggets of wisdom might be found from such a cultural expert? What insights would he offer into the creation of Chakotay?

We at the Hey Star Trek! offices have to assume that the work this man did on Chakotay is just fine –we have to believe that, because that’s optimism!

So what does it mean to have finally broken the human/spiritual glass ceiling of Star Trek? Well it seems to be something that led to a Voyager failing. Chakotay’s belief in the afterlife wasn’t really explored in our season 1 box set, despite the fact that the afterlife was drudged out quite a bit.

The episode “Emanations” dealt with an alien culture who discovered that their “afterlife” was having their bodies deposited on an asteroid in space. Harry Kim ended up in one of their “coffins” through a mistake that could only be conceived by Brannon Braga.

The mystical Chakotay only got to contribute when they found the bodies on the asteroid. He kept the away team from disturbing the bodies that were obviously prepped through an alien ritual. Then, throughout a story that ends with Harry Kim’s death and resessatation, he is kept on the sidelines.

He isn’t the officer to suggest that Kim reflect on his near-death experience, it’s Captain Janeway instead. We do love us some Janeway, but the spiritual coach is standing right there with a tattoo on his forehead!

We’re not saying that he should intercept every life and death football that gets tossed from episode to episode, but we think it wouldn’t have hurt Voyager anymore to allow the character with the bigger spiritual muscles to flex them every now and then.

Another episode that could have benefited from a spiritual perspective from Chakotay could be considered “Jetrel.” This episode featured Neelix going head to head with a man who had performed mass genocide.

We know that later in the series, Chakotay will get a strong one on one with Neelix. When Neelix comes back from the dead, it’s Chakotay who comforts the chef and spiritual matters are discussed.

Many a Star Trek fan will lament the fact that the mixed crew of Voyager got along too well too quickly. They weep for the lost “character development” that could have been witnessed watching the two crews coming together.

We’re telling you that the choices to avoid that flavor of drama weren’t clumsy nor lazy. They were deliberate on the part of executive producer Rick Berman. He didn’t want to see Star Trek degenerate into a boxing match that would be best left to the forthcoming Battlestar Galactica. He wanted Star Trek and that’s what he made.

We at the offices cry instead for the lost potential of the Chakotay character. His spiritual journey didn’t receive one-tenth of the attention that was given the planet Bajor.

There was an episode in our box set called Cathexis. This kept Chakotay in a coma for most of the episode while his “consciousness” floated around from character to character. While he was out, his friend B’lanna set up a “medicine wheel” to provide comfort and support.

This attempt to be genuine with the Chakotay character felt strange and made up. It was no different than a ritual that Kira might perform on her alien and spiritual planet. This act was a suggestion that real (that is Earthbound) spirituality can be treated with the same lightness and ease as the made up religion on another spin-off..

We weren’t particularly insulted by the medicine wheel, but we wondered if someone out there might be.

With Chakotay flying about outside of his body, the episode left very little for Robert Beltran to do. When he came to, he spoke up and he spoke sincerely. He performed admirably, but we could understand why the actor has maintained such an ironic twinkle in his eye.

We believe that he’s just as disappointed with the lack of character exploitation that we are. This is why he jokes. This is why he insults Star Trek and his participation in it. We’re not asking that you forgive him or like him, but maybe you can see that his greatest asset was one the producers either didn’t understand or didn’t want to explore.

That’s got to be frustrating for a performer.

The only evidence we can submit outside of rampant opinion and speculation comes from the early days of Voyager. We discover before the first costume fitting or rehearsal that Robert Beltran, the man who hates Star Trek, loved Chakotay and made suggestions that the producers immediately slurped up.

Maybe because their “expert” had failed them somehow?

Robert Beltran spoke about playing Native American to the producers. He said, “I think of myself as Mexican. Meaning I’m Mestizo, which is a blend of European blood and indigenous Central American. So I think it’s perfectly within my right to play an Indian.”

It was Beltran that suggested that Chakotay’s heritage come from “south of the border.” He listed tribes for Jeri Taylor. Tribes like the Mayan, Inca, or Aztec. The bible for Voyager’s show wasn’t modified until Taylor was convinced.

If Beltran wasn’t taking his role seriously or if he was not interested in working on a starship, why would he go through the effort to create a Chakotay he could stand behind? It’s far more probable that he took on the role with beliefs similar to what’s outlined in this issue and as the years passed, he simply gave over to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen.

Star Trek just didn’t have the guts to let the human soul out of its cage and see what happened. So the next time you run over to the Robert Beltran quote generator to get your blood running or to laugh, we hope you keep in mind that he only teases Star Trek and its fans.

He saw a different opportunity and we think he’s right to have dreamed such a way.

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  • Kahless

    I like Voyager.
    I like Chakotay.

    What I don’t like is Robert Beltran saying that all of us Star Trek fans are stupid. I believe that when he actually said this, his language was a bit more colorful.

    It is okay if Mr. Beltran doesn’t like Star Trek. It is okay if he doesn’t like Voyager, or his part in it. He should remember, though, that without Trek, he’d probably be nothing more than a bit player in lousy sit-coms.

    Also, I would like to thank Mr. Rick Berman for keeping Trek alive and on the air for many years after the Great Bird passed into eternity.

  • Anon

    I can’t help but throw out the tub as soon as I hear ANY “Native-American Spokesperson” refer to himself as “Cherokee.” I mean, I KNOW the Cherokee men were a….. friendly bunch, and there ARE alot of them around, but it’s such an easy ancestry to claim.

  • Tom

    I want all star trek fans to see this. As an avid star trek fan I almost cried with laughter after I saw it. It is a blog that shows photos Of people in northeast philadelphia that have the exact same haircut as Spock. check it out you wont be disappointed http://spocksighting.blogspot.com/